People fall along a spectrum: at the one end, are those who care about what they eat and drink, sometimes passionately; at the other are those who regard it simply as fuel. Another dimension is how enthusiastic they are about other cuisines on the one hand, to whether they are even prepared to try anything different on the other. If you were brought up in the UK of the 1950s and 1960s, your parents had little or no exposure to foreign foods. Garlic was shunned as ‘foreign’, spaghetti came in tins with tomato sauce, and olive oil was something bought at the chemist for your inner ear. Widely available table wines were mostly French, or at least exclusively European, while port, madeira, sherry and other sweet fortified wines from Spain (eg, Tarragona), Cyprus (British sherry) and the Commonwealth (South Africa, Australia) were hugely popular. Fine wine was a distinctly upscale pursuit.
Fast forward ten years or so and various waves of immigration meant that the cuisine of India/Bangladesh became popular, then Chinese take-aways then Chinese restaurants, with numerous European and Middle Eastern nationalities also vying for your attention. Table wine, much of it simple plonk and some of it ghastly, from the outlying parts of Europe and New World became mainstream (Lutomer Riesling, Bull's Blood). Some of it was modelled on the classic styles, even to the extent of carrying the same name (eg, Don Cortez Spanish Burgundy).
Now however things are a little different. Or are they? The UK is still not a foodie paradise, unless of course you have deep pockets and have Rick Stein or Marcus Wareing on speed-dial. Take ‘proper’coffee; you might think that with the plethora of coffee outlets that Britain has truly embraced this, but anyone that thinks a ‘flat white’ is ‘proper’ coffee needs to visit Italy. And while many of our farmers’ markets are probably quite good, many have a long way to go to rival, for example, Venice’s Rialto market (photo, top left).
But it is undeniably true that you can now dine out in the UK, and on indigenous cuisine, without this being a pale imitation of some food emanating from elsewhere. The bad news is that you can’t do this cheaply. However, with the euro at present levels, you can no longer eat well and very cheaply on the Continent either. Restaurants that we rate (and where we’d eat once or twice a year if they were local — and affordable) are described here.
Restaurant winelists now span the globe and feature mostly good wine, but silly mark-ups mean that your serious wine-drinking mostly takes place at home (but that’s another story: see wine at left).